by Clinton Anderson
Remember, you gain your horse’s respect by having them move forward, backwards, left and right.
The Objective: Get your horse to be more responsive, willing and respectful on the ground; to stop, pivot on his hindquarters and go back in the opposite direction – while staying out of the handler’s space.
The Elements: The handler should know to move behind the girth to ask the horse to go forward, and to step in front of the girth to ask the horse to change directions. Have full knowledge of the previous Round Penning exercise.
The Schedule: This lesson can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. The better the Round Penning exercises are done beforehand, the easier this lesson will be.
The Equipment: Downunder Horsemanship rope halter and lead rope. The lead rope is 14 feet long with a heavier core and some weight for heft. My rope halter makes it more uncomfortable for the horse to lean on the halter than he would with a web halter, and helps teach him to give to pressure.
The Trainer’s Actions: Get the horse to go forward, step in front of the girth and change hands, direct the horse to move in the opposite direction. This should be repeated until the horse stops and pivots on his hindquarters when changing directions.
The Horse’s Actions: Lunge around his handler; stop and pivot on his hindquarters with a roll-back; remain soft and supple on the halter and lead rope.
The Completion Standards: The lesson is completed when the horse will eagerly walk, trot and canter in both directions without pulling on the handler’s arm and lead rope; when the horse stops and changes directions by pivoting on his hindquarters and doing a roll-back; when the horse remains soft and supple, keeps his nose tipped in towards the handler and arcs his body around the handler; and when the horse is behaving respectfully and is relaxed.
Lunging for Respect
Often times, perhaps at a horse show or training facility, you will see someone in the middle of an arena lunging a horse. The horse is usually on a 60 or 70-foot lead rope, galloping around in a circle , pulling on the owner. The owner is in the middle of the arena hanging on to the lead rope with both hands, and the horse is running, bucking and whinnying and turning his head to the outside. They usually need a stud chain over the nose to help them control the horse. Basically, what they are doing is trying to wear the horse out so that once his gets tired he will begin to listen to them.
This is not the purpose of my Lunging for Respect exercise. Remember, you gain your horse’s respect by having them move forward, backwards, left and right. The purpose of lunging should be to continuously ask your horse to change directions and focus on you. In doing this, you will learn much about your horse – like how attentive is he, does he prefers to be on a certain side, does he have a good attitude, is he soft and supple to the halter pressure?
Horses learn through repetition. If you lunge your horse longer and longer every day just to get him tired so that he will listen to you, he will get more and more fit and it will take longer each time to get him tired. You don’t want to lunge your horse to get him tired. Lunging is another exercise to help maintain respect and get the horse to work with you, not against you.
When I am lunging my horse, the last thing I want to do is make the horse go around and around and around. The more you let the horse go around and around, the more bored he becomes and the less focused on you. In this lunging exercise, I continually ask the horse to stop and change directions, every two or three circles.
However, when I ask him to stop and change directions, I require him to stop, pivot on his hindquarters and do a 180-degree turn over his hocks – like a roll-back a reining or cutting horse would perform. This teaches your horse to elevate his shoulders, get his hindquarters underneath him and change directions in a collected manner.
When changing directions, most handlers do not have enough control to make their horse change directions without having to move very much. The handler usually has to stop the horse, walk out to it, clip the lead rope on the other side of the halter, run around the side and ask the horse to go. This proves to your horse that you are willing to get out of his road.
What we are trying to say to our horse is that we would like for him to change directions – but that he has to stop, pivot on the hindquarters and go in the opposite direction without us having to walk around him- in a relaxed manner. I don’t want him racing around, pulling on my arm and the lead rope. He should trot around in a relaxed manner with some slack in the lead rope.
If I ask my horse to trot a 10-foot circle, he should continue to trot that circle until I ask him to do a bigger circle, a smaller circle, stop or change directions. I also want the horse to tip his nose in to me and put some bend to his body. When you first begin to lunge most horses, they will drop their shoulder, cock their head off to the outside, stiffen up and not pay attention. In this exercise, the more we stop and have our horse change direction, the more we are telling him to listen to us and soften to the halter.
In the beginning stages, we are teaching our horse first direction, and then impulsion. The girth line is very important when we are teaching our horse how to lunge. When we are behind the girth, we are asking our horse to go forward. When we are in front of the girth, we are asking our horse to change directions or stop.
When you begin, ask the horse to lunge to the left by stretching out your left hand and pointing in the direction you want the horse’s nose to go. With your right hand, twirl the end of the lead rope and aim it toward the middle of his neck. You are establishing direction, then impulsion. You have to direct the “car” where you want it to go and then “put your foot on the gas.”
Most people will try to run towards the horse’s hindquarters twirling the rope. The horse keeps circling around the owner while facing them and won’t move out into his own circle. This is the result of trying to get impulsion without establishing direction. If your horse is looking at you, there is no point in going to his hindquarters because he has no sense of where you want him to go.
Once the horse is lunging around to the left, stop twirling the rope.
Remember, if you twirl and twirl and twirl, pretty soon the horse doesn’t listen to it because you have desensitized your horse to the twirling. We want to sensitize our horse to the twirling action of the rope. So, when we cluck, we ask him; when we twirl, that is telling him that we mean business. When we twirl more, it means more business. And if we tap or smack him with the end of the lead rope, we are telling him we definitely mean business.
You want your horse to realize that when you twirl the rope, if he doesn’t move, you are going to apply more pressure and make him feel very uncomfortable for not moving. This is black-and-white horse training which leaves no doubt in the horses mind what you want. You do it as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary.
Now the horse is lunging to the left and there should be some slack in the rope. When you change directions, the first step is to switch hands on the rope. Practice switching hands with the rope by always moving the rope under itself to keep it from tangling .Put the tail end of the rope now in your right hand, under the rest of the rope and into your left hand. Then slide your right hand down the rope towards the horse’s head. Step left in front of the girth, and stretch your right hand out to establish direction, then twirl the rope in your left hand and ask him to change directions.
So, there are four basic steps: change your hands, slide your hand down the rope, step in front of the girth and twirl with the other hand – direction with your new hand and impulsion with your twirling hand. As the horse gets better, these four steps will become one smooth maneuver and will be much easier. But in the beginning, you may find it easier to teach you and your horse by separating the procedure into specific steps, exaggerating to teach – refining as you get better.
When the horse changes direction, he should immediately stop, pivot on his hindquarters and perform a roll-back, then move in the new direction to the right. The same principles always apply. I want my horse to trot around me, keeping his nose tipped in, with a slight bend in his body. I want his attention on me.
This is the ideal situation, however when you first teach a horse, he will most definitely not act this way. Horses will usually do the complete opposite of what we want. This is why we are showing you real problems and real solutions in these articles. We are not using a finished, trained horse to demonstrate these exercises. Rather horses that we know will make mistakes so we can show you how to correct them and hopefully eliminate frustration and help you achieve positive results. Do not be discouraged if your horse requires one of the troubleshooting solutions below. This is perfectly normal and he will improve, becoming more responsive, as he understands what you want him to do.
The events above describe how to begin lunging and changing directions to get the desired result. It will be most uncommon if your horse performs these steps perfectly the first time. There are many different reactions you may encounter and I will try to address some of those reactions and explain what to do.
1-The horse will not move away from you and continues to follow you. Most people cause this to happen by twirling the rope toward the horse’s hindquarters to ask the horse to go forward, but the horse has no idea where you want him to go, so he keeps following. Stretch your lead hand out and point where you want the horse to go. In doing this you will apply slight pressure on the halter behind his ears. He should immediately follow that pressure and move off around you. With your right hand, twirl the rope towards the horse’s neck.
In the beginning, you will be in front of the girth asking the horse to move his front end away from you. As soon as he does this, step behind the girth and apply your energy and the end of your lead rope towards his hindquarters to drive him around. If he just stands there, keep twirling the rope. If, after about five or ten seconds, he has made no attempt to move away from you, get closer and twirl the rope at the same time tapping the horse on the neck with each revolution. Keep doing this until the horse decides to move away.
If your horse still decides to be stubborn, tap him harder until eventually you make it so uncomfortable, that even the most stubborn horse will not want to stand there and have the rope keep irritating him by smacking against the neck. As soon as your horse attempts to move away from you, stop twirling the rope as a reward to him. Once you do this consistently, your horse will realize that as soon as you stretch your direction hand out, he should immediately trot off and go in the direction you indicate.
2. The horse runs sideways instead of going around you. Just keep pointing your hand where you want him to go and twirl the rope. If he keeps running sideways, keep following him until he eventually goes forward. Do not stop and start over again. He may run sideways for 100 to 200 feet, but all he is trying to do is get you to ease up. You are not going to ease the pressure of twirling the rope until he starts to walk forward. As soon as he moves forward, immediately stop twirling the rope to give him a sense of relief as reward.
3. The horse runs backwards when you ask him to begin lunging or change directions. Keep your direction hand in the same position and twirl the rope in the impulsion hand. The more he runs backwards, the more you stay in the same position, follow him and keep twirling the rope. If you have to, you may have to tap your horse on the side of the neck to get him to take his front end away from you and go in the direction you want. Remember, he can’t back up all day; so the more he runs backwards the more you go with him.
The worst thing that you can possibly do is try to stop the horse from walking backwards and take the pressure away. If you do this, you will actually teach him to run backwards by giving him the relief he wants. He does not yet understand that he can escape the pressure of you twirling the rope if he moves forward, away from you. As soon as he does, immediately release the pressure and stop twirling the rope.
4. The horse keeps pulling on your arm and trying to do a bigger circle rather than soften to you and stay in the size circle that you want. The worst thing you can do is to let the horse pull on you and lean against the halter and lead rope. Simply pull and release repeatedly until the horse figures out that he is responsible for his actions and he must not pull against the halter and lead rope. All horses do this in the beginning, some more than others. This is because they are used to their owners holding on to the pressure of the lead rope and making them stay in a certain size circle, getting relief when they do this. This is another reason I like a rope halter. It is a little stiffer than a web halter, and I find that horses respect it a lot more.
5. The horse runs and tries to charge past you instead of changing directions. In the beginning stages, your horse doesn’t understand the difference between when you are behind the girth and when you are in front of it. Remember, this is the balance point – when you are behind it, you are going forward; when you are in front of it, it is either stop or change directions. So when you step in front of the girth, some horses will try and run quicker because they feel they can outrun you rather than having to listen to you and change directions.
Ask your horse to change directions by stepping in front of the girth and if he starts to speed up and run forward, start tugging in more of a jerking motion immediately with your direction hand. Tugging on his nose makes it uncomfortable for him to keep running forward and pulling against you. With your other hand, twirl the rope. As soon as the horse stops and looks towards the right direction, stop tugging and maintain a steady pressure, but increase the pressure with your impulsion hand, twirling the rope towards his neck to drive his front end away from you.
6. The horse changes directions, but instead of pivoting on his hindquarters, he stops, pivots on his front legs, disengages his hindquarters and then goes in the new direction. This is the exact opposite of what we want to happen. When a horse is doing this to me, I will take a step in towards his shoulder and slap him on the shoulder with the end of the lead rope. This will make him want to move away from me, jump and move those front legs away. As soon as he uses his hindquarters, stops and turns, stop applying pressure to his shoulder in this manner. He can’t pivot on his front legs if they are moving, that is why you want to make him move immediately.
7. The horse stops and changes direction, but he does a “screaming U-turn and crowds into your personal space. When this happens, I will become more aggressive with the end of the lead rope and apply pressure to my horse’s neck and shoulder driving him away from me. This is a disrespectful act, and your horse must learn that he is not allowed to enter your personal space until you have asked him to. This may not seem important at this stage, but it will teach your horse not to try to walk all over you in other situations.
8. The horse stops, rears up, and doesn’t want to move in the opposite direction. This is another good reason to have a 14-foot lead rope. If the horse rears up and refuses to move, he can’t pull on me and drag me under his front legs. All you usually need to do is keep pointing your direction hand where you want, and keep twirling with your impulsion hand. Don’t reprimand him for rearing – just make it uncomfortable for him to rear by not giving him any reward – removing the pressure – until he settles and changes direction. If you feel insecure or unsafe at this stage, stop and seek the help of a professional or go back to last month’s Round Penning exercise to get your horse to go away from you freely without being connected to the lunge rope.
In the beginning, your change of directions will not be pretty. They will probably be quite disastrous, but this is normal. Don’t be frightened, alarmed or upset. Work through any resistance until you and your horse start to develop a feel for the exercise. Pretty soon, with enough repetition, you are going to change directions every two or three circles and your horse will learn that as soon as you step in front of the girth, he must either stop or change directions. He will start looking for your signal rather than taking his own relief, running forward and away, or dragging you off and being disrespectful.
About the author…
Clinton Anderson’s “Down Under Horsemanship” TM
Rated by Horse Magazines “Horse Illustrated” and “Horse and Rider” as one of the country’s SUPER clinicians, Clinton Anderson is making a tremendous impact in the horse community. Clinton Anderson was born and raised in Australia where at the age of 6 he started riding horses during weekends and holidays. His family recognized Clinton’s natural ability with horses and cultivated his interest, buying him his first horse at age 9. Anxious to train his own horse, Clinton began attending horsemanship clinics at age 12. At age 13 he began playing Polo-Cross, played for a couple of years and was chosen for a national team representing his state. At age 13, he began spending all available time during holidays with nationally acclaimed clinician and horse trainer, Gordon McKinlay of Rock Hampton, Queensland, Australia and using his knowledge to train horses for friends and neighbors. (Select the photo for more information)